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Ebola cure: 3 companies could hold the key

Shawna Ohm

Tuesday afternoon an Atlanta hospital welcomed the second of two American Ebola patients. Yesterday news broke about how those patients were to be treated.

The drug – called ZMapp – is made by three companies – MappBio, LeafBio and Deryfus. The companies also list the U.S. government and the Public Health Agency of Canada as partners.

ZMapp is actually a drug cocktail combining MB 003, created by San Diego-based Mapp and ZMAb from Canada-based Defyrus. According to MappBio’s web site, the drug has not yet made it into the testing phase. Because of that, the company says not much of the drug is available.

However, the FDA does have provisions that allow for emergency drug approval. And because of how the drug is made – using tobacco plants – it can be produced relatively quickly. New plants can grow the drugs’ antibodies in a matter of weeks.

According to CNN, ZMapp uses antibodies from mice who were infected with Ebola and survived.

Reports show the serum effectively treated Ebola in a handful of monkeys, even after symptoms were present. However, the monkeys were treated within 24 to 48 hours of symptom onset. The American Ebola patients had exhibited symptoms for much longer than that.

Discovering that ZMapp was effective in animals who were already exhibiting symptoms was the moment Mapp researcher Larry Zeitlen really knew he had something.

“Showing that monoclonal can work against Ebola therapeutically (after symptoms are present) was a big moment for me,” he said in an interview with Frontiers of Biology earlier this year. “Time and patience [helped me overcome frustration],” he said. "Drug development is almost always a slow process.”

Historically, patients with Ebola have been treated with supportive therapy, like fluids and oxygen - as there is no known cure for the virus. The disease is classified as “severe” and “often fatal” by the Centers for Disease Control. Symptoms include everything from a fever to diarrhea and can appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure.

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